Bamert, Perahia and the Philharmonia – 14th March

The Creatures of Prometheus, Op.43 – Overture
Piano Concerto No.4 in G, Op.58
Symphony No.5 in C minor, Op.67

Murray Perahia (piano)
Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Matthias Bamert

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 14 March, 2002
Venue: Royal Festival Hall, London

For this final concert in Part One of the Philharmonia Orchestra’s on-going Beethoven cycle, Matthias Bamert replaced Wolfgang Sawallisch, adding the Prometheus Overture, sprightly if rhythmically a little uncoordinated, as a welcome entrée. Memory recalls Sawallisch himself directing the Philharmonia in this and a selection from the ballet at the Royal Albert Hall in 1982.

After his scintillating and often galvanic account of the First Concerto, Murray Perahia did not always plumb the more considerable depths of the Fourth Concerto to the degree expected. True, the first movement was finely rendered, the pointing-up of the B major/G major ambivalence setting its calmly unfolding momentum effortlessly in motion. The greater clarity that Perahia now brings to passagework has not lessened the limpid continuity of his phrasing, heard to fine effect in the more familiar of the two cadenzas – shaped with deft understatement so that it took its place within the movement as a ’second development’ in all but name.

After this, the ’Andante’ felt a little prosaic in its alternation of aggression and poise, Perahia surprisingly underplaying the intensity of the famous cascading discords. The ’Finale’ found the balance between ’brio’ and ’giocoso’ from the outset, with some persuasive playing from lower strings in the yearning second theme. Overall, however, co-ordination between soloist and orchestra was often lacking – not least in the second return of the rondo-theme, where an early instrumental entry caused Perahia to fudge his lead-in. A pity, as there was a character and insight to his playing that augured well for the re-recording of the Beethoven concertos he will one day make.

The most interesting aspect of Bamert’s account of the Fifth Symphony was its consistency of pulse not just during but between movements, the work moving forward in an unbroken continuity. Yet the performance was lightweight, even casual, in a way that suggested Bamert was intent on avoiding the music’s heroic essence by interpretative slight of hand. The ’Andante’ brought pathos to those passages where woodwinds ruminate on aspects of the main theme, and the transition to the ’Finale’ was beautifully judged in tempo and dynamics. Yet the outer movements both eschewed the Beethovenian hallmarks of discipline and uninhibitedness that, even in today’s un-heroic age, give this symphony a claim on the emotions like few others.

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